On the audio side, you’ll find optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, used for feeding Dolby Digital, DTS and PCM to an AV amp, plus stereo audio output for good measure.
The deck partially makes amends for its HDMI deficiency with the inclusion of a Freeview tuner, which makes it possible to record programmes directly from the built-in 7-day EPG. If your Freeview reception isn’t yet up to scratch, there’s also an analogue tuner to fall back on. The digital tuner offers the usual MHEG-related features (digital text, interactive services) and favourite channel lists, but don’t expect frills like series link or infrared control of external digital TV receivers.
Before hitting record, you can select one of four quality modes – XP, SP, LP and EP. XP uses the highest bitrate of 8.5Mbps, which means you can only fit one hour’s worth of recordings onto a single layer disc, but it offers the best picture quality. In SP, LP and EP modes, the bitrates drop to 4.5Mbps, 2Mbps and 1.6Mbps respectively, allowing you to fit two, four or six hours onto a disc – but the picture quality drops each time. Additionally, there’s an eight-hour (1.2Mbps) EP mode and Flexible Recording, which picks the appropriate mode according to the amount of space left on the disc.
After you’ve made a recording, it can be tweaked using the deck’s editing functions. On the most basic level, you can rename the recording, protect it from accidental deletion or define your own chapter points. But when using DVD-RAM, you can create a playlist of chosen scenes without affecting the original recordings. It’s a nice feature, particularly for camcorder owners who want to piece together a montage of home-shot footage, and it’s easy to do – an intuitive screen lets you punch in start and stop points as you play the recording back.
In fact, the rest of the user interface is impressively designed. The setup menu features neatly arranged options supported by eye-catching graphics, while the EPG somehow fits the programme list, programme synopsis and a box playing live TV into one screen, but keeps the whole thing looking logical and uncluttered. Digital TV performance is also generally slick, although channel changing is slower than we’d normally expect. The only other operational let-down is the remote, which looks nice but features too many tiny indistinguishable buttons for our liking.